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2022 Human Rights Awards Dinner Celebrates Victories, Calls for Action

June 23, 2022

Remarks by Robin Phillips, executive director of The Advocates for Human Rights, at the June 22, 2022 Human Rights Awards Dinner.

Good evening and welcome.

Wow . . . it has been three years since I have been able to say that. It is hard to overstate how much we have been looking forward to being together this year. We are also happy to welcome those of you joining us on-line. Thank you, each and every one of you, for being here tonight.

Over the years, this gathering of our community has been a celebration of our shared values. It reaffirms our commitment to justice and a world where every person can live with dignity and equality.

We have seen the struggles in the nonprofit community up close. You have always been a big morale boost for our staff and for me. We do not take you for granted!

You -- this extraordinary community of human rights activists - are not only the reason we exist, but you build us up, and sustain our spirits in these challenging times. It is so thrilling to see so many of you who have been part of the legacy of The Advocates.

I would like to take a few minutes to recognize a human rights giant who left us this year. David Weissbrodt was a co-founder and guardian of the The Advocates for Human Rights over its many years. David passed away in November. He leaves a tremendous legacy of human rights activists who were his students or who worked in one of the many organizations like The Advocates, that David helped to start.

For us, David provided vision early on in the organization's history. Later, he provided stability and guidance to get us through some difficult bumps in the road. I am personally grateful for all the times David showed up and made the load manageable. And so, tonight, in David's honor, we will celebrate all of the reasons to be hopeful that human rights and the rule of law will prevail in the United States and around the world.

Our law firm supporters are doing more than ever. Because of you, we have been able to rise to the challenge of providing legal support to Afghan evacuees who were brought into the country last year without permanent status. Thanks to so many of you who have stepped up and volunteered to take an asylum case. To those of you who are thinking about taking a case and wondering if it will make a difference, I can assure you it will.

We have seen our efforts with our international partners in the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty result in abolition of the death penalty in several countries, including Sierra Leone, Papua New Guinea, and the Central African Republic. Just last month promising legislation was introduced, with Presidential support, to abolish the death penalty in Liberia and Zambia.

We still have our work cut out for us. We documented the strategy and movement behind what we have called the "radical right." It is a sustained effort to roll back important advancements in human rights for women, refugees, immigrants, and LGBTQI-plus individuals. We published a report outlining tactics used to defeat efforts to ratify the Istanbul Convention, the European Convention to eliminate violence against women.

We have seen increased efforts by some, including white nationalists, to reduce protections in civil and human rights here in the United States. These efforts include a decades-long strategy to abolish women's access to safe, reproductive services. Sadly, we're seeing some of the hateful strategies used in the United States being replicated around the world.

We are committed to protecting important human rights victories of the past. And we are committed to making even more progress in the future. The stakes are high, and the whole world is being affected by these threats to humanity and all we stand for. 

No one sees this more clearly than our honoree and recipient of the Don and Arvonne Fraser Human Rights Award, Neil Datta. Neil has been a leader in standing up to these international efforts even in the face of threats to his own safety.

Tonight, we will celebrate Neil, Fey y Justicia, and all the extraordinary volunteers working to protect human rights.

We measure victory one life at a time. For example, Bridget, one of our board members, fled Zimbabwe because of persecution. She sought safety here in the United States. Throughout the pandemic, Bridget worked tirelessly to provide health care to individuals suffering from Covid. She was forced to wait more than six years for her hearing -- an outrageous and indefensible length of time to have her life on hold. And then, In the days before the hearing, the government tried to dismiss her case outright. Her pro bono lawyer fought the motion and was able to keep the scheduled date. I am happy to report that a few weeks ago, Bridget was granted asylum. Bridget is here with us tonight and you will see her later as she closes out our program.

In addition to providing essential services here in the United States, many of our clients are also making a difference in their home countries by providing first-hand information to the United Nations. In the past four years, more than 70 current and former clients have shared their personal experiences of human rights abuses. Our clients have brought their most powerful weapon - the truth of their experiences - to hold their governments accountable for their human rights violations. One client, who was jailed multiple times as a prisoner of conscience in Ethiopia, was able to directly address the Human Rights Council about Ethiopia's human rights practices. He was not only speaking for himself, but for others who are still in Ethiopia and not able to speak out.

You are making a difference. Your time, your financial resources, your volunteer efforts, your moral support, and good intentions, they all make a difference.

We remain hopeful because of you, and because we believe in the famous words of Martin Luther King, Jr., that "the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice." Thank you!